FREEPORT — When former Democratic strategist James Carville described Gov. Paul LePage on Sunday as a “man of ideology,” he didn’t mean it as a compliment.
Carville, who led Bill Clinton’s successful presidential campaign in 1992, was the guest speaker for Maine Democratic Party’s annual lobster bake in Freeport, where he characterized the Republican governor as someone who puts tea party politics ahead of the people of Maine.
Carville, known as the “ragin’ Cajun” for his barbed commentary delivered with the accent of his native Louisiana, stumped at the event held at the historic Mallet Barn at Wolfe’s Neck Farm for the top candidates on the Democratic ticket, including LePage’s rival in the governor’s race, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
“He’s a man of ideology,” Carville said of LePage. “Every morning that he gets up, he thinks, ‘What can I do to advance my ideology?’ Representative Michaud gets up and says, ‘What can I do to help people?'”
Carville, 69, is now a political commentator for Fox News. He joined the cable network this year after he and his wife, Republican strategist Mary Matalin, had spent more than a decade at CNN offering on-air election analysis from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
On Sunday, more than 300 Democratic supporters gathered at the idyllic seaside farm with ocean views and cows grazing in a nearby green pasture for the picnic-style meal and to hear Carville and the candidates speak in the timber-framed barn afterward.
Michaud is running in a tight three-way race, close in the polls with LePage, while independent candidate for governor Eliot Cutler trails well behind.
Carville called Maine’s gubernatorial race “a big one” among races for governor across the country, drawing national attention from Democrats looking to oust an incumbent Republican.
He compared his role Sunday to that of Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is scheduled to return to Maine on Aug. 12 to speak as political headliner at a fundraising event for LePage’s re-election campaign.
Carville said that as Christie comes into Maine over the New Hampshire border, he will see the “Open for Business” sign alongside Interstate 95 in Kittery that LePage had put beneath the “Welcome to Maine” sign after he was elected.
“That is the sum and substance of his economic plan for Maine,” Carville said of the sign, drawing some laughs from the crowd. “How is that sign working?”
He said that while New England’s other states are ahead of the national average in job growth, Maine under LePage’s leadership has lagged behind in job recovery since the recession ended.
“I find him to be somewhat of a coward. It’s always somebody else’s fault,” Carville said of LePage. “It’s the liberals. Or it’s people on welfare. Or it’s the press. Every state in the country has liberals. Every state in the country has the press. Every state in the country has people on welfare.”
David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine Republican Party, said Carville’s attacks are a sign that the Democrats view the incumbent governor as a threat.
“The Democrats’ and Mr. Carville’s strong words are understandable; the success of Gov. LePage’s policies represent a serious threat to their 40-year grip on Maine government. Republican welfare and education reforms are wildly popular,” Sorensen said.
Both Sorensen and LePage’s campaign strategist, Brent Littlefield, also disputed Carville’s statement about job growth in Maine.
“This is a classic Democratic Party event. They claim they are tolerant and there for the people, but then they bash other Maine people, call people names and throw around labels,” Littlefield said in a telephone interview Sunday. “The facts are, whether Mr. Carville or Mr. Michaud like it or not, that under Gov. LePage more than 20,000 private sector jobs have been created.”
Carville spoke at Sunday’s event after each of the Maine Democratic Party’s top candidates addressed the crowd – Michaud for governor; U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, running for re-election in the 1st District; U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows; and 2nd Congressional District candidate Emily Cain.
After Michaud’s speech, the crowd inside the barn erupted in a chant, “We like Mike,” as some inside applauded and others pumped their fists in the air.
Earlier, Michaud spoke to the press outside the barn and agreed with Carville’s assessment that the Maine governor’s race has captured national attention.
“This is a race where we’ll have a Democrat win against a Republican incumbent. This is a very important race for the people of Maine,” Michaud said. “Maine has gotten a lot of late night TV comments, primarily because of our governor. This governor does not reflect the attitude of a lot of Maine.”
Cain is vying against Republican Bruce Poliquin and independent candidate Blaine Richardson to fill the seat being left vacant by Michaud. Bellows is running against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. Pingree is running in the 1st District against Republican Isaac Misiuk and independent candidate Richard Murphy.